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Sherburne, Jessica – Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and American Kestrels (Falco sparverius): Bioaccumulation in feathers, plasma and eggs

Sherburne holding an American KestrelA major goal in the field of toxicology is determining the effects of potentially harmful and persistent
environmental pollutants, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), on biota and the environment. PBDEs are flame retardants that are found in a variety of consumer products.  However, because PBDEs are not fixed in their polymer product through chemical binding, they can spread into the environment.  PBDEs are bioaccumulative lipophilic substances which are a major source of concern because of their effects on the health of both wildlife and humans.

In the last thirty years, PBDEs have been detected at increasing levels in the environment as well as in raptors.  Locally, high levels of PBDEs have been detected in osprey eggs, osprey nestling plasma and fish samples in the lower Boise River, Idaho. Though the direct source of PBDE’s in aquatic environments is unclear, one potential mechanism for introduction of PBDE’s in the environment is the disposal of sewage sludge through land application.

I will monitor American kestrel nest boxes in an area where biosolids are being applied as fertilizer and a control area. I hypothesize that there will be an increased level of PBDEs in the kestrels living in the area where biosolids are being applied.

Currently, the most effective method for testing for whole-body PBDE load is through tissue analysis which requires animals be sacrificed.  My research has the potential to reveal feathers as a non-invasive method for testing for whole-body PBDE load which would reduce the number of animals sacrificed in future studies.  It may also identify a point source for the spread of PBDEs into the environment as well as whether they bioaccumulate in a species of elevated trophic status.  Overall, we will gain a better understanding of how PBDE levels can be monitored in wildlife and how they are released into the environment.